On 9 February this year, the Minister of Environmental Affairs proposed 22 new marine protected areas (MPAs) as part of Operation Phakisa, which is a government initiative to drive the development of the ocean economy. Less than 0.5% of South Africa’s ocean ecosystems are currently protected, in comparison to 8% of terrestrial areas.

Says Two Oceans Aquarium CEO Michael Farquhar: “I applaud the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) for this bold step in the right direction. South Africa has a target of 15% protection of our coastline by 2028 and this is a great first move in achieving that.”

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is among the 22 proposed marine protected areas (MPAs). Photo courtesy Flickr/Joe Townsend (under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The following areas have been proposed:

  • iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Aliwal Shoal
  • Agulhas Front
  • Cape Canyon
  • Childs Bank
  • Protea Banks
  • Browns Bank Complex
  • Benguela Bank
  • Browns Bank Corals
  • Namaqua Fossil Forest
  • Namaqua National Park
  • Robben Island
  • Agulhas Bank Complex
  • Agulhas Muds
  • Amathole Offshore
  • Benguela Muds
  • Port Elizabeth Corals
  • Addo Elephant Park
  • Southeast Atlantic Seamount
  • Southwest Indian Seamount
  • uThukela Banks
  • Orange Shelf Edge
A tiger shark at Protea Banks. Photo courtesy Flickr/John Savage (under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Some of these areas include unique characteristics such as a fossilised yellow wood forest at a depth of 120m off Port Nolloth, a deep cold-water coral reef standing 30m high off the seabed near Port Elizabeth and a world famous diving destination where seven shark species aggregate, at Protea Banks in KwaZulu-Natal.

Fisheries around the globe are in a state of collapse. In South Africa the fisheries situation is unfortunately no different to that which is happening globally. Many of our linefish species are severely depleted and in a legally declared crisis. Other issues facing the oceans include climate change and more specifically ocean acidification, pollution and habitat destruction.

Around the world there is a call to increase the number of MPAs as they have shown to be extremely effective in protecting species and ensuring a marine legacy for generations to come. Several significant MPAs were announced last year, e.g. New Zealand's Kermadec Islands, Palau, and the islands of Pitcairn and Rapanui (Easter Island). These MPAs will benefit tourism, fisheries and recreation; offer coastal protection (particularly important with regards to the effects of climate change and rising sea levels), and assist in reducing greenhouse gases.

Reasons for hope

Dr Sylvia Earle (right) at the Aquarium in 2013, with South African freediver Hanli Prinsloo. Photo by Stuart Buchanan 

World-renowned oceanographer, diver, author and lecturer Dr Sylvia Earle is leading the way through her organisation Mission Blue to establish Hope Spots.

According to Dr Earle, “Hope Spots are special places that are critical to the health of the ocean — Earth's blue heart. Some of these Hope Spots are already formally protected, while others still need defined protection. About 12% of the land around the world is now under some form of protection (as national parks, world heritage sites, monuments, etc.), while less than 4% of the ocean is protected in any way.

"Mission Blue is committed to changing this. Networks of marine protected areas maintain healthy biodiversity, provide a carbon sink, generate life-giving oxygen, preserve critical habitat and allow low-impact activities like ecotourism to thrive. They are good for the ocean, which means they are good for us. We are often asked, “How much protection is enough?” We can only answer with another question: How much of your heart is worth protecting?”

“We are often asked, 'How much protection is enough?' We can only answer with another question: 'How much of your heart is worth protecting?'” – Dr Sylvia Earle

Dr Earle visited South Africa in 2014 and launched six Hope Spots: Aliwal Shoal in KwaZulu-Natal, Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape and Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, and the Cape Whale Coast (Hermanus area) and False Bay in the Western Cape.

South Africa was a forerunner in establishing the Tsitsikamma National Park Marine Protected Area (TMPA) in 1964 and has continued over the years to set aside additional MPAs. The protection of marine biodiversity within MPAs is vital to the health of our oceans and to human survival for, without biodiversity, we will lose many of the services which marine ecosystems provide.

“The Two Oceans Aquarium is well placed and willing to assist the government in educating the public on the value of MPAs and thus garner informed support for future additions," says Michael.

Make your comment

The proposed declarations and associated regulations are open for public comment until 17 May 2016.

You can read the comments that Michael submitted on behalf of the Two Oceans Aquarium by clicking here [PDF].

Guidelines for Comment Submission in support of Phakisa MPA Network are downloadable by clicking here [PDF].

Submit your comments:

By post, to

The Deputy Director-General: Department of Environmental Affairs
Branch: Oceans and Coasts
P.O. Box 52126
V&A Waterfront
Cape Town
8002

By hand, at:

Department of Environmental Affairs
Branch: Oceans and Coasts
East Pier Building
2 East Pier Road
V&A Waterfront
Cape Town

Or by email:

MPARegs@environment.gov.za

Any enquires in connection with the proposed declarations can be directed to Mr Xola Mkefe at (021) 819 2644. Comments received after the closing date may not be considered.

How much of our ocean is protected?

Today, only 2.2% of the world’s oceans are protected in implemented and actively managed marine protected areas, and of that only 1% of the ocean is strongly protected in no-take marine reserves. This is according to the Marine Conservation Institute's MPAAtlas, a tool to provide real-time information on current and proposed MPAs and their effectiveness in protecting marine life. 

Check out this website for MPA maps, international news and raw data. 

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